Three days a week I walk my sons to school. After dropping the first one, I trundle with the second, (a toddler) at a leisurely pace, to his school. It takes me about 45 minutes to drop them both off, after having left home. (They are at different schools) It is a nice walk through the city, gets me a bit of exercise before work and I also get to spend time with my sons, which is not as much as I’d like, but at least it is Something.
The most recent episodes have been punctuated with some interesting topics of conversation that my 7 year old throws out at me. As I’ve been pondering them for some time after, I thought I’d write about them.
This is Part 1
“Dad, what happens when we die?”
I am assuming most parents are confronted with this question of life after death or a variant at some time or the other. Do our religious background’s bias our answers: most certainly. However, I wanted to not let mine.
I want my kids to grow up with guidance, but also have all options put on the table in front of them. I feel that with this knowledge and continual guidance on the side of my wife and I, we can help them explore more thoughts/opinions/ways of thinking and come up with their own opinions as they grow into an age where that becomes possible.
I am also fully aware that the responses I was about to bring to my 7 year old, would not always be something he would grasp, so having to explain it in a simple way was of paramount importance.
You also need to know before I start, that when my father died two years ago, we told my son that he had become a star, so that he would have something “physical” to hold onto as a memory of his grandfather.
There is something very comforting and emotional when your young child points up into the night sky and says “Papa, look I see grandpa.”
So what happens when we die? I was caught, as I walked, between a part of me wanting to talk about this beautiful place we call heaven, Valhalla, Nirvana or whatever your religion might tell you it is called and the sight of a television turning off – the picture just vanishing to black.
What really happens, Dad? Is there really life after death?
So I started with a scientific response: My son, did you know that the little bits, the molecules, that make up your body were made in a star?
His eyes widened.
Those little tiny pieces of you that you can’t see, that are so small, but which we can see through super strong microscopes, they all come from a star which got so big and old it exploded. These little bits then came together over a long time and they form part of you. So what makes you, you, is essentially the same things that we find inside stars.
I found this start to be a good one, as it speaks to kids right away. They love the sun and stars and find them fascinating. Also my son had been learning about our sun and the fact that one day far into the future, it will swell up and explode. And also it tied back to my Dad becoming a star when he died.
Why do stars explode Dad?
My son threw me a more scientific question onto a basic scientific response to a deeply philosophical question.
I think I went on to talk about the sun being a body of gas, under immense pressure (he acknowledged gravity) and how gas under pressure burns and like wood that we burn in our chimney in winter, at some point the sun will run out of gas to burn and then explode. (I don’t pretend to know the science behind it, but the answer seemed to satisfy him).
But as I hadn’t answered his question about what happens after death, he tried it again.
“but Dad, what really happens when we die?”
Truthfully, we really don’t know what happens after death.
We know that the molecules, the tiny stuff that we are made up of, never really die, they just change and transform all along our lives and beyond. Like their violent birth in the final death of a star to our birth and ageing, the molecules inside us are continually transforming. When we die, they continue to transform. If we believe our memories are bound in those molecules, then we can believe that some part of us continues to live.
Some people believe our memories and our minds go somewhere else, like heaven, where we can live in another form.
Some people believe we go to other places and some believe we can stay in touch with those people still alive.
Still other people believge death is like turning off a TV, once it is off, there is nothing left.
Advances are being made in science that help us in our understanding of death, especially with quantum science, but I think we are still far awar from knowing what really happens.
“Dad, when I’m older, I will invent a potion that keeps you and me alive forever. That way we don’t have to worry about that.”
“Thats good my son, but to do that you have to work really hard at school and study hard to invent a potion like that.”
“Don’t worry Dad I will”
We are all faced with our own mortality at some point in our lives. For some, I imagine it comes early, others late and still others in there middle years. Perhaps the famous mid-life crisis is sparked by our contemplation that our own lives are finite.
I don’t want my son to worry about potions or life after death. I want him to worry about life. To worry if he is getting the most out of life. If he is doing the things he loves doing. To worry that he is living his life to the full.
We are start with passions. Sometimes those passions becomes our careers. Sometimes they fade away and are replaced with the 9 to 5 existance of so many of the Western world.
So are you worried about life after death or are you worried that you’re not seizing life.
And why does it take a 7 year old to make us think of those things?